“The groups most adversely affected by the foodborne diseases are children and people in low-income regions of the world,” said task force leader Arie Havelaar from the University of Florida.
The announcement, made on Wednesday, comes after more than eight years of research.
“Of those who lost years to ill-health, disability or early death, 40 percent were children under five years old, even though they constitute only nine percent of the world population. Foodborne illnesses affect people on the African continent the most, followed by sub-regions of Southeast Asia and the eastern Mediterranean,” Havelaar said.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) created the Foodborne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group in 2007 to study global variation in the impact of foodborne disease.
After considering the known disease-causing agents that can be transmitted by food, the group identified 31 hazards as the most necessary to include.
The group found that these 31 foodborne hazards caused 600 million foodborne illnesses and 420,000 deaths in 2010.
Results from the study indicate that up to 33 million healthy life years are lost each year due to foodborne diseases each year — a number on par with the “big three” infectious diseases — HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis — and air pollution.
Diarrheal disease agents were the most frequent causes of foodborne illness – particularly norovirus and Campylobacter.
Non-typhoidal Salmonella enterica, also a diarrheal disease agent, is capable of causing blood poisoning in people with weakened immune systems and was a major cause of death among the pathogens chosen for the study.
Other major pathogens causing foodborne disease deaths included Salmonella Typhi, a subspecies of Salmonella enterica and Taenia solium, a tapeworm that comes from pork products; and the hepatitis A virus.
The findings were presented in a WHO technical report.